F365's Five World Cup Qualifying Shorts

Matt Stanger takes a look at the week's biggest matches in World Cup qualifying, with Argentina attempting to avoid another embarrassment and Spain needing a win...

Last Updated: 25/03/13 at 15:32 Post Comment

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Can Argentina Avenge Bolivia Thrashing?
Tuesday sees Argentina return to the site of their embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Bolivia in 2009, which left Diego Maradona's team in a precarious position to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. Despite Maradona's first XI boasting a convincing array of talent and experience for the tough test in La Paz, Argentina succumbed to the high altitude and their worst result in more than 60 years. "Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart," said a shell-shocked Maradona. "If we had dreamed this was going to happen before the game, we would have thought it was impossible."

Maradona's Argentina recovered to snatch the last automatic qualifying spot for the World Cup ahead of Uruguay, with the controversial coach telling journalists to "suck it and keep on sucking it" after fierce criticism during his brief reign.

Under current manager Alejandro Sabella - and with Brazil a notable absentee from the CONMEBOL league - Argentina's qualifying campaign for World Cup 2014 has been far less eventful. The Albiceleste have cruised into first place after seven wins, two draws and just one defeat so far, but Lionel Messi is still wary of Bolivia ahead of Tuesday's return to La Paz. "Bolivia is going to be very difficult because of the altitude. I have very bad memories from the last time," said Messi. "It's hard to judge the bounce of the ball and I remember feeling very short of breath."

Even if Argentina fall to another defeat beneath the stunning backdrop of Mount Illimani, they will hold onto top spot thanks to their current four-point lead over Colombia. However, Messi and co will be keen to avenge the painful memories of 2009 and earn a first win against Bolivia since 2007.


Will France Avoid Defeat To Remain In Pole Position?
France haven't had much to celebrate since Raymond Domenech's reign turned sour after World Cup 2006, but the weekend brought a pair of pivotal results in Group I as Les Bleus eased to a 3-1 win over Georgia while Spain conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Finland.

It seems that Barcelona's recent malaise (of sorts) may have impacted on the national team, with Spain looking weary on Friday as they failed to turn their 81% possession into the victory that was required. The biggest concern to Vicente del Bosque was that his team managed only four attempts on target throughout the 90 minutes and Spain will be need to be much more ruthless on Tuesday if they are to prevent France maintaining their 13-match unbeaten run in qualifying matches and possibly extending their lead at the top of the group.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of France's win over Georgia for Didier Deschamps was the performances of debutants Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba. Both players have excelled for their clubs this year and carried their form into national team duty in Friday's victory. Deschamps now has a tough decision to make over his starting line-up, with Karim Benzema's recent performances - discussed by Tim Stannard here - also causing the manager a headache.


Will Scotland Survive Embarrassment?
Following their 2-1 defeat to Wales at Hampden Park, Scotland join San Marino and Andorra as one of only three teams that can be eliminated in the UEFA qualifying process on Tuesday. It's an embarrassing predicament for Gordon Strachan's side and yet another nadir in a long period of depressing decline.

Although Strachan began his competitive reign with defeat on Friday, the former Celtic manager will surely be given time to turn Scotland's fortunes around after the disastrous reign of Craig Levein. The overriding memory of Levein's tenure was the manager's striker-less formation in a qualifying defeat to Czech Republic in 2010, but Strachan's main problems appear to be at the other end of the pitch where a centre-back partnership of Grant Hanley and Gary Caldwell is a real cause for concern.

On paper, Serbia are a lot stronger than Scotland, but they have significant problems of their own in Group A and a result for Strachan's side on Tuesday is not inconceivable. It may only delay the inevitable in terms of their elimination, but Scotland and their new manager need a big performance to provide hope to disillusioned supporters.


Can Chile Revive Ailing Hopes Against Uruguay?
A fourth qualifying defeat in a row leaves Chile facing a difficult task to reach the World Cup after a campaign of great upheaval so far. The team's organisation and tactical discipline is a far cry from Marcelo Bielsa's reign, when La Roja became the neutral's favourites in South Africa with a number of bold displays.

New coach Jorge Sampaoli, who replaced Claudio Borghi in December, is rated highly in South America after national and continental success with Universidad de Chile, whom he modelled on Bielsa's open, attacking style. But Sampaoli has no time to settle into the role after Friday's disappointing 1-0 defeat to Peru in the Clásico del Pacífico and it's vital that Chile beat Uruguay on Tuesday to avoid slipping further behind in the race to qualify.

Encouragement for Chile comes in the form of Uruguay's struggles, with Luis Suarez scoring in a 1-1 draw at home to rock-bottom Paraguay over the weekend. The result raised more questions about Oscar Tabarez's tenure, with Uruguay losing three (including a 4-1 thrashing by Bolivia) and drawing two of their last five qualifying matches.

Both teams are in desperate need of a victory, and the winner on Tuesday night could receive the boost that is required to secure fourth spot in the CONMEBOL league behind Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.


Can Mexico Stifle USA Improvement?
Despite Javier Hernandez grabbing his 29th and 30th international goals in just 45 appearances for Mexico, El Tri threw away a two-nil lead against Honduras on Friday to remain winless in their first two matches of the CONCACAF final round. With three automatic qualification places available and six games remaining, there is still plenty of time for Mexico to recover, and they will want to start with three points against Jurgen Klinsmann's USA on Tuesday.

Mexico are one football's great enigmas, failing to really stretch their wings in international tournaments despite the nation's love of the game and huge population from which to find the best talents. And with USA continuing to grow as a footballing force, now is the time for José Manuel de la Torre's team to fulfil their potential and avoid playing second fiddle in North America. It may only be three points on the way to another World Cup finals appearance, but victory on Tuesday would also symbolise Mexico's strength to prevent a long-predicted power-shift.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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